After 40 Years, Medicare Still Not a Strong Issue for Republicans

| Thu Aug. 23, 2012 9:55 AM EDT

Here is this year's least surprising news:

The Romney-Ryan proposal to reshape Medicare by giving future beneficiaries fixed amounts of money to buy health coverage is deeply unpopular in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to new polls that found that more likely voters in each state trust President Obama to handle Medicare.

....Roughly 6 in 10 likely voters in each state want Medicare to continue providing health insurance to older Americans the way it does today; fewer than a third of those polled said Medicare should be changed in the future to a system in which the government gives the elderly fixed amounts of money to buy health insurance or Medicare insurance, as Mr. Romney has proposed. And Medicare is widely seen as a good value: about three-quarters of the likely voters in each state said the benefits of Medicare are worth the cost to taxpayers.

Well, sure. Why wouldn't voters like Medicare in its present form? It doesn't cost very much, and then you get gigantic guaranteed benefits forever once you turn 65. What's not to like?

I've read a bunch of brave chatter from conservative writers suggesting that the "Medicare issue" is working in their guy's favor. I guess anything's possible, but I sure doubt it. The idea that Medicare is going broke probably seems like a fairly distant prospect to most voters — isn't everything always going broke? — and in the meantime why take chances? My guess is that people responding positively to the Romney/Ryan Medicare plan are either (a) stone partisans or (b) not really aware of what the Romney/Ryan plan is. Nobody cares about group A, and a few million dollars of targeted attack advertising will take care of group B nicely. If Medicare stays in the spotlight, Paul Ryan's plan will most likely be a smoking crater by election day.

Face it: Medicare reform is a loser for Republicans. They've never been trusted on Medicare, so they go into it with the same kinds of problems that usually beset Democrats on national security issues. What's more, as long as the campaign is focused on Medicare, it's not focused on the economy, where they want it. If Republicans have any brains, they'll stop trying to convince themselves that Paul Ryan's bright, shining wonkery will magically transform decades of devotion to Medicare, and instead do their best to change the subject.